Canada And The United States: The World's Most Fascinating Border

This article explorers the world's largest (and arguably most complex) border between two very close countries.

The International Boundary

The Canada-United States border is not just the longest international border in the world, but is also one of the quirkiest ones. This famous border, between the second (Canada and fourth (United Sates of America or USA) largest countries in the world, is officially known as the "International Boundary" and stretches across a distance of 8,891 kilometers (5,525 miles).

The ‘not-so-straight’ International Boundary

For most of us, an answer to the question ‘Which is the longest and straightest international border in the world?’ would be, of course, the Canada-U.S.A border. Its longest, straightest stretch is that stretching along the 49th Parallel from the Lake of the Woods to Boundary Bay, for a distance of 1,260 miles between. Even though our world maps and the treaties establishing the line have led us to believe in this fact for a long time now, the truth is that the International Boundary is neither perfectly located along the 49th Parallel, nor is it perfectly straight. The border is a complete zig-zag of around 900 distinct boundary lines, deviated from the 49th parallel by several hundred feet on either side, and spanning the entire distance between the first and the 912th boundary monuments (out of a total of 8,000 monuments along the entire Canada-U.S.A border) created along the longest stretch of the border, to distinguish the borderline. Even though a large section of the boundary region passes through the uninhabited Alaskan/Yukon wilderness, a 20 feet wide clearing has been carved out throughout that region to serve as the border zone between the two sister nations. This can definitely be designated as the longest deforested patch in the world, though still definitely not the straightest.

The absence of the straight line characteristic of the Canada-US border is attributed to the poor infrastructural facilities of the 19th Century, when American, British, and Canadian surveyors alike set out on the gigantic task of geographically dividing the two countries. Since there was a lack of roads, electricity, and satellite technology in those days, the International Boundary markers and monuments strayed both north and south of the 49th Parallel in many places.

Unique Features of the International Boundary

North Rock and Machias Seal Island

Even though a border war between the two neighboring nations of Canada and the U.S.A is unimaginable, tension certainly exists between these two countries regarding two, tiny, treeless islands on the ocean between Maine in the U.S.A and New Brunswick in Canada. These two islands are the North Rock and Machias Seal islands. Even though the islands are relatively uninhabited, home only to large colonies of puffins and other feathered residents, and also believed to be devoid of natural resources, the seas around them proffer economic opportunities as prospectively lucrative lobster fisheries. Indeed, it is this lobster fishing industry that often creates disputes between the American and Canadian lobster men concerning their rights to fish in the waters around these islands. To claim the territory of Machias Seal island, Canada has even set up a small lighthouse in the tiny 0.1-kilometer-long island. Canadians have manned the lighthouse on the island since its creation, and the Canadian Wildlife authorities enforce the number of tourists visiting this island every day. Both American and Canadian scientists, however, work together on this island (unlike their lobster-seeking counterparts) to study the nesting puffins there.

Northwest Angle and Islands

Another, not-so-disputed, but still weird nonetheless, characteristic of the Canada-U.S.A border is the Northwest Angle and Islands region. This is the only location in the U.S. (with the exception of Alaska) that lies north of the 49th Parallel, and does so as a result of a mapmaker’s error during the establishment of the International Boundary. The original plan was to draw the border through the Lake of the Woods to the northwestern-most point, and then extend it further west to meet the Mississippi River. However, what the parties involved in border establishment did not know was that the source of the Mississippi ran much lower south than the estimated location, and hence there was no possibility that the line running from the northwest of the Lake of the Woods would intersect the river when running westward. Hence, in 1818 a correction was made in the boundary line establishment, wherein the line had to run south from the northwest point of the Lake south towards the 49th Parallel, cutting off a part on the Canadian side of the 49th Parallel and placing it as a part of the U.S.A. This area is now designated as the Northwest Angle and Islands.

Point Roberts

Another bizarre feature of the Canada-U.S.A border is the existence of Point Roberts. This is the peninsular tip of British Columbia, 20 miles south of Vancouver, and south of the 49th Parallel. Thus, this land (inhabited by a small community of about 1,000 peace-loving Americans) even though not an island, is officially part of the U.S.A, and the only way of reaching the other parts of U.S.A by land from Point Roberts is via routes passing through Canada. Since this small township has only a primary school, students of higher grades have to cross the international border four times a day to study in schools in other parts of their "home" country (i.e. the U.S.A.).

Campobello Island

Another border oddity along the Canada-U.S.A border is observed in the case of the Campobello Island. This island experiences a completely opposite situation to that of Point Roberts. Campobello officially belongs to Canada, as it lies north of the 49th Parallel, but its only land route is through the United States by way of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge, which connects the Canadian island to Lubec, Maine, U.S.A.


Thus, the Canada-U.S.A. border is riddled with oddities, and there are several more examples wherein one country accommodates a bit of the other's "rightful" space in addition to those mentioned above. Still, whatever be the situation, it is always important to the authorities of each of these two countries that the border between these two vast nations must remain clearly demarcated and, more importantly, safe for those living on both sides.

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